DIRECTIONS 2007: Survey & Construction

December 1, 2006  - By

Momentum is a powerful phenomenon. When thought of in terms of a moving object, its mass and velocity can be measured. In other respects, it’s immeasurable. Feelings of confidence, trust, and faith can’t be hard-coded — but can make the difference between winning and losing. Whether in the context of a football game, the stock market, or a presidential election, positive momentum builds confidence, and confidence feeds the momentum. The Big Mo.

In 2006, GPS constellation health has declined, but a well-timed presentation by Brad Parkinson at the ION GNSS 2006 conference has injected renewed enthusiasm into the GPS program. Parkinson’s call for a 30-plus satellite constellation may constitute a boon for GPS survey/mapping users in 2007. More satellite signals and healthier satellites mean increased productivity. While 2006 saw two IIR-M satellite launches, look for double that in 2007. Even if new launches don’t improve the PDOP spikes, we’ll have more reliable hardware in orbit. The Big Mo is rolling.

The short-term benefit of the IIR-M launches is a healthier constellation. Another, longer-term benefit comes from the addition of the second civil frequency. L2C may bring some value to L1/L2 users in 2007, but with only eight IIR-Ms even potentially operational by year’s end (assuming five are launched in 2007), plus the requirement to have an L2C-capable reference station, the bennies will be limited.

GLONASS is still a crapshoot and may likely continue that way into 2007, but it doesn’t matter because its value is augmenting GPS. Up until a few months ago, it had The Big Mo on its side. Then GLONASS headed south in a hurry in September, when nearly a half dozen satellites were declared unusable “due to maintenance.” This continued for 30-plus days. The good news is that the Russians are launching GLONASS satellites at a pretty good clip, and GPS/GLONASS users don’t need a full GLONASS constellation for it to be useful. Three more are scheduled to launch this month and six are scheduled for launch in 2007.

Even if only half of those become operational, GPS/GLONASS users will feel the love in 2007. Worldwide GLONASS usage will increase significantly in 2007 now that all major survey instrument manufacturers have introduced and will begin rolling out their GPS/GLONASS-capable products. The Big Mo will return.

Galileo won’t do anything for the survey/mapping user in 2007, but that doesn’t mean you don’t keep tabs on it. Galileo has the potential to deliver Huge Mo for survey/mapping — just not in 2007. The business model will continue to receive scrutiny, and the discussion of military use will spin things around a bit, but development and testing will continue. The key news to look for in 2007 will be any significant delays. 2008 should be a Big Mo year for Galileo if the program can stay on target, and if tight GPS interoperability is realized.

Satellite-based augmentation systems (SBASs) like the United States’ WAAS, Europe’s EGNOS, Japan’s MSAS, and India’s GAGAN also have Big Mo on their side. Virtually every GPS receiver shipped today is SBAS-capable. WAAS will finally stabilize with respect to the communication satellite adjustments made in 2006, and EGNOS should be declared operational. The worldwide SBAS user base will continue to show strong double-digit if not triple-digit growth.

NDGPS (National Differential GPS), another GPS augmentation system, will encounter the most significant crossroad in its decade-long history of service in 2007. Lack of support threatens the program’s existence. The worst-case scenario is that NDGPS will shut down as early as October 2007, leaving the U.S. Coast Guard to operate only 40 or so maritime DGPS broadcast stations along coastlines and major waterways. Big Mo left some time ago, and No Mo has moved in.

Reshaping the Marketplace. The most interesting GPS survey/mapping innovation for 2007?


While not the most innovative technology because it’s been possible for many years, it holds great interest because of its potential to reshape the survey/mapping marketplace. It will fill a gap between L1 static systems and high-end L1/L2 RTK systems. Those L1 static users who could not overcome the financial jump to an L1/L2 RTK system costing several tens of thousands of dollars will now have the productivity of RTK within reach.

Why now, and not five years ago? Follow the money to find the answer. L1/L2 RTK systems still run in the US$25-45,000 range. Competition among high-end GPS manufacturers is heating up, so they’re looking for opportunity. L1 RTK systems will be half that price — maybe even one third. Yes, baseline lengths will be limited to a few kilometers, and initialization times will be measured in terms of minutes rather than seconds, but the accuracy will be the just as good as high-end L1/L2 RTK systems.

Satellite constellation health will be the wildcard for L1 RTK. 2006 was not a good year for the GPS constellation. With L1 RTK and a weak constellation, productivity would be an issue, especially if you aren’t operating in a really clear open-sky environment. However, the good news is that it seems GPS Wing of the U.S. Air Force is in giddy-up mode again. If they share Parkinson’s vision of a 30-plus satellite constellation, L1 RTK could end up being a very productive tool — with Big Mo on its side.

Eric Gakstatter is editor of GPS World’s Survey & Construction e-newsletter. Free subscription available.


Every December GPS World invites experts to share insights on what the new year holds. Here are additional views in the Directions 2007 feature:

Opportunity, Innovation — and Choice
By Charles F. Trimble and F. Michael Swiek

Through a Glass, Darkly
By John T. Kelly

Modernizing, Expanding GNSS Use
By Bill Thompson

As Navigation Goes, So Goes LBS
By Mike Sheldrick

This article is tagged with and posted in Opinions, Survey

About the Author:

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.

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